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Asking the hard questions: choreographer and company director Aszure Barton.

How Does It Feel?

By Lynn Hasselbarth

Aszure Barton and Artists

The Egg, March 20

We’ve all seen them, artists standing on a street corner with an empty top hat or a beat-up guitar case. Some are musicians or mimes, others poets or dancers, each with something to say to a disinterested world around them.

What they’re doing is called busking, derived from the Spanish verb buscar, meaning “to seek.” However, despite the ageless attempt to achieve something beyond the immediate, the street artist is often no more understood or respected than an organ grinder.

Who best to comment on the hidden realm of busking than an artist herself, a choreographer whose main research and inspiration are the idiosyncrasies of human nature. In her piece Busk, Canadian choreographer Aszure Barton offers a hauntingly humorous window into the complex and disheartening existence of the nomadic performer.

A young man opens the piece with a playful solo of lofty leaps and white-gloved hand tricks. Dressed in baggy sweats and a black blazer, the dancer seems to transcend his station as a beggar, disregarding the empty top hat placed at the edge of the stage. He eventually acknowledges the prop by lowering his head into the hat and executing a perfectly balanced head stand.

If one is so gifted as to play six musical instruments or convey an entire life story with one’s hands, how does such a person’s life become reduced to cold city streets and penniless pockets? Aszure Barton & Artists explore this question more deeply than one might be prepared for.

As a choreographer, Barton is unafraid to show the dismal qualities behind the clown make-up and rusty harmonica. In one instant, a male is positioned center stage, exuding strength and vitality much like the famous DaVinci anatomy study; then suddenly, the figure melts inward, contracting his torso; his legs collapse together in a masturbatory impulse.

As each dancer takes on the role of the street performer, the other company members depict the glaring judgment of the public eye. With black hoods drawn over their faces, the dancers resemble a mob of heretics or evil spirits. They loom in the background, echoing a score of Swedish choral melodies with shouts and grunts.

Periodically, one of the faceless members ventures forward and hovers closely to the soloist. As the performer courageously empties his soul, the black figure stands alongside stoically, a constant reminder of failure and doom. There is a poignant dichotomy between the uncompromising expressiveness of the performer and the emotionless burden of this shadow.

The contrast between the creative depth of the performer and the limitations of their condition is emphasized further as the piece comes to a close. A female dancer enters, waddling in a crouched position covered by a black plastic bag. She rises in front of a projected image of a homeless woman and leaves the covering behind, revealing a hastily made slip dress of white trash bags.

Dancing to a klezmer waltz, the woman spins herself into a fury with a rapid folkdance. But rather than collapse in exhaustion, as one might expect, she rips apart the plastic covering, shaking her bare chest like a defiant warrior. She stands exposed, both striking and vulnerable, as the rest of the ensemble returns.

Positioned evenly across the stage, the performers proceed to bow excessively in every manner and direction, some straight and formal, others slightly apologetic. Each of the dancers, one by one, removes his ragged clothing, ultimately leaving the entire ensemble naked, save for nude-colored undergarments.

There is an element of exploitation that is obvious and saddening, which only intensifies as a single female approaches the edge of the stage. Her torso and pelvis undulate in a riveting display of sexual confidence. However, she is held captive by the return of a hooded onlooker, an unwelcome visitor who manipulates her body like a marionette, tickling her flesh as she fearfully shivers.

The voyeuristic quality of the male intruder is a haunting final image. As a moaning accordion quiets to silence, the woman lowers herself to the ground and painstakingly crawls offstage, the shadowy figure still at her side. It is unclear whether the oppression she has experienced is something within her or the result of her unending striving for artistic recognition.


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